Unless you've been sleeping under a colander, you've seen the previews, read the pre- and post-screening blog posts (Michael Park nailed it back in late 2007), and perhaps even looked forward to this year's mega food movie, Julie and Julia (in theaters August 7). It's a big deal in culinary cinema: Meryl Streep plays (channels, really) Julia Child, Stanley Tucci is her husband Paul, and Amy Adams holds her own as blogger Julie Powell (the one who attempted to make all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 2002). Writer-director Nora Ephron seamlessly and wittily juxtaposes the two women's lives (based on the narratives in Powell's Julie & Julia and My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme).
What did I think? Below, a list of 10 things I liked about the movie and 3 things I didn't.
10 Things I Liked About the Movie Julie & Julia:
1) Eye-melting food porn. Close-ups of boeuf bourguignon, chocolate cake, lobster, and bruschetta will have you salivating even if you scarfed down a jumbo popcorn before the movie began. And yes, the dishes on screen are all real, prepared by chef Colin Flynn and stylist Susan Spungen. Cast and crew had to eat the same dish time after time for multiple takes. Hard life.
2) Humor, great lines. When blogger Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams) is having trouble putting the lobster to sleep, she is serenaded by her husband to the tune of "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads. With one lyric change: "Lobster Killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?" Very funny scene. Runner-up: Julie Powell uttering, "I could write a blog! I have thoughts!"
3) Good pacing. The movie starts with Julia Child eating a life-changing dish. Eventually it cuts to blogger Julie Powell. For the next 124 minutes, the film flits back and forth between the two. Not an easy transition to sustain time and again. And yet, neither of these stories could sustain a 90-minute movie. Kudos to Nora and the editors.
4) Gorgeous shots of Paris in the '50s and modern-day New York. The restaurants, the street scenes, the food markets, the apartments, the old cars, the retro kitchens. Just enough filth and squalor to ring true.
5) Sensitive men. They're not perfect, but the husbands (played by Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina) are generally supportive and kind, not the usual self-serving sleazeballs we see on the big screen. Healthy relationships? What a concept.
6) Core message of persistence, vision, inner strength. Stick-to-it-ness. Julia spends ten years writing and selling her book. Julie Powell spends a year futzing in her lame kitchen. But they endure the hardships. And who doesn't like uplifting endings?
7) The music. Mostly oldies. But smart sophisticated choices like "Mes Emmerdes" by Charles Aznavour, "Time After Time" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, "A Bushel And A Peck" by Doris Day. And "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads.
8) The honest representation of book publishing. Not a lovefest. Not a simple "hey, I have an idea" and voila it's a bestselling cookbook. The movie shows how hard Julia (and co-authors) worked. And how they had to pitch, revise, re-pitch, and wait, patiently, for very little money, to see their book become a reality.
9) Julia's cluelessness. As if it wasn't hard enough for Meryl Streep to play Julia Child without resorting to caricature, Ms. Streep also manages to portray Julia's naïveté (she did not know how to cook until she studied at Le Cordon Bleu) and clumsiness (her initial attempt to slice an onion is endearingly pathetic) without hamming it up too much.
10) Epicurious is mentioned! When Julie Powell is listening to voice mail on her answering machine, one of the messages comes from an editor at Epi. We are honored.
3 Things I Didn't Like About the Movie Julie & Julia:
[SPOILER ALERT, SORT OF...DON'T READ IF YOU'RE AFRAID OF HEARING HOW THE MOVIE ENDS]
1) Sex scenes. Yes, there are a few. Look, I appreciate that Julia was a real person with real intimacy. But I still have trouble believing the frisson between the dapper, calm, and collected Stanley Tucci and the hulking and honking ball of energy that was Julia. Maybe it's her voice.
2) Omitted truths. I don't think I'm ruining the movie by telling you that Julie Powell does not live happily ever after with her husband. I'm not 100% sure what happened, but it is common knowledge that Julie had some sort of marital strife, separation or divorce, albeit not during a time represented in the movie. (This info was updated after receiving reader comments.)
3) Abrupt ending. The movie ends with the publication of Julia's early biography. It does not follow her career as she appears on television and becomes a cultural icon. This is not a flaw; it was intentional. The script sticks to the action in My Life in France, compiled by her and Alex Prud'homme, her husband's grandnephew. But there's a sense of: OK, what happens next?
by James Oliver Cury
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